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Do They Work or Do They Wreck?

A large part of fundraising and getting students involved is using incentives, or rewards, for increased participation. It is no secret that getting students to be motivated often means dangling a carrot or two in front of them.

But, what happens when the carrot begins to outweigh, or out-cost, the real mission of the fundraiser?

Modern fundraising incentives range from shiny new iPods to bouncy balls, from cash prizes to giving the principal a Mohawk. This wide range leaves a lot of PTO groups and schools wondering where they should land when it comes to offering student incentives.

PTO Today has written an in-depth article about the effectiveness of fundraising incentives, and we have included some of the content for you here, as well as added in our own two-cents when it comes to answering the question: do incentives work or do they wreck? 

Why Fundraising Incentives Can Wreck

thumbsdownWe’re the kind of people that like to get the bad news before the good, so let’s start with reasons why offering incentives can be damaging to your fundraiser.

Sends the Wrong Message
Fundraisers are about raising money to better the financial health of the school and give more back to the students, through field trips, playground equipment, special events, etc. Offering incentives for student involvement runs the risk of diverging from that mission to better the school for the sake of everyone. Rather, it can teach a message of consumerism and individual gain. 

Creates Unhealthy Competition
A little competition between students for the sake of the fundraiser can be encouraging, but competition for the sake of reward can be detrimental. If you find that offering incentives creates divisions among students between those who have and those who have not, then that is a clear sign of unhealthy competition. 

Turns Away Parents
Just the existence of fundraising incentives can look like bribes to the uninformed parent. Remember that carrot analogy used earlier? Well, not all moms and dads like the idea of their kid chasing after a dangling reward, especially if that reward is not promised to every student. 

Makes for Additional Costs
The goal of any fundraiser is to raise money, not spend it. Of course, there will need to be some investment, but always with the expectancy of a big return. Expensive student incentives could end up costing you more than the increased involvement brings in.   

Why Fundraising Incentives Can Work

thumbsupThe four points listed in the previous section are worth considering, but let’s see what is possible when fundraising incentives are used strategically. 

Rewards Students for Hard Work
Incentives are often misconstrued as bribes, but to students they appear more as motivational prizes and rewards for the hard work they’ve accomplished. The raised money might be going toward something for the students, but this is not an immediate reward. Incentives show students right away that they are appreciated and that they’re work is not unnoticed.

Creates Healthy Competition
When student fundraising incentives are done correctly, they can actually create healthy, peer-motivating competition. Having a few large prizes creates an individual mindset in students, with a lot of the focus centering on the individual. When there is an abundance of small rewards or experience-based prizes for the whole class or grade, then the focus is on uniting together and motivation for the sake of the whole.

Motivates Student, Parents & Faculty
Again, this hinges on whether or not fundraising incentives are done correctly, that is, when they are group rewards rather than individual material prizes. Very few teachers will get motivated over the possibility of one of their students winning an iPod. However, teachers will get motivated if healthy competition exists between classes or grades for the prize of a catered lunch or extra recess time. Parents will also be motivated to help their son or daughter win a reward that they couldn’t simply buy without being involved in the fundraiser.  

Brings About Overall Success
You may have picked up by now that TGMC gives a thumbs up in the fundraising incentives debate. We believe, like PTO Today, that student incentives, when done strategically and creatively, make a huge difference in getting students motivated and involved. Take the example school used in the PTO Today article, Poinsettia Elementary in Ventura, Calif.: “when the PTO didn’t offer any prizes for participation, their fundraiser brought in $8,000. The next year, when they instituted prizes for the first time, the income tripled to $25,000.”

When asked about the importance of student fundraising incentives, Terry Weaver, from the PTO at Poinsettia Elementary, said: “Prizes are important; it’s as simple as that. If we don’t offer prizes, we don’t get nearly the amount of returns I think we could get.”

So, the question is not whether or not to have student incentives, but what kind of incentives to give out.

A Different Kind of Carrot to Dangle

At TGMC, we encourage schools to have incentive for their students to work hard and stay motivated, teacherrewardfrom the kick-off assembly all the way through event day. This means setting goals for students to win different rewards throughout the fundraising process, continually communicating the reason behind the rewards, and creating incentives that are experienced in groups.

When it comes to finding where to land on that wide range of student incentives, we recommend offering a mix of small prizes (like toy rings, fun school supplies, outdoor toys) with the big experience prizes (like pie-ing the principal or getting a special treat at lunch). Basically, leave the big technologies and expensive toys for birthdays & Holidays. Fundraisers should be about rewarding the school and incentives are a unique method to bringing about that goal in a positive, motivational way.


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